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Lord Ackner: My Lords, my abiding recollection of this Bill will be attending the supervisions so ably administered by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to the great satisfaction of us all. I particularly enjoyed them since I did not have to produce an essay indicating how I followed every word the noble Lord said.
I should also like to pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his relaxed good humour in coping with a very difficult Bill. I am delighted to see him now relaxed at the lectern instead of being swamped by the impossible full-bottom wig which, as I recall from my time as an advocate, makes life very miserable if you have to make a speech. I am
With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, if self-regulation is effective, then he has nothing to fear. At present, it is not effective because there is no sanction--and there is no reason why there should not be a sanction. In financial services, there is the sanction of the ombudsman, who can give judgments which turn out to be expensive, and there are regulators who can impose very sizeable fines. I do not see why self-regulation should not be made effective. I believe that the spectre of the courts intervening may hasten that very desirable process. I, too, wish the Bill well.
Earl Russell: My Lords, when I arrived in this House I was told that a Lord was a new boy for his first 10 years. I have about six weeks to go. I think I may say, therefore, without fear of contradiction by events, that this is the best Bill that I have seen before this House in the time that I have been a new boy. It has also been debated in the highest traditions of this place. For that, I owe thanks to my noble kinsman, Lord Henley, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. For the quality of the Bill, for the conceptual beauty of the drafting, I owe thanks to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who reminds me of my father's remark on J.M. Keynes: "I felt I took my life in my hands every time I argued with him".
Above all, I must pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who is in many ways-- I hope the noble and learned Lord will forgive me--the "onlie begetter" of this Bill. I pay tribute to him, first, for his work as an advocate. One cannot put such a Bill through without people coming to realise that it may be of benefit to many ordinary citizens. Secondly, there is the immense patience and care that he put into the Private Member's Bill which he piloted through this House. I sat behind him as he did that and watched him face down outright opposition and conduct a careful process of negotiation with the legal Cross-Benches about the detail of the drafting. To his success then we owe a great deal of our success now. Finally, there is the patience and courtesy with which he has helped the noble and learned Lord pilot the Bill through the House. Seldom can a private Peer have achieved so much in the legislative field. I have heard the view expressed by lawyers who know far more about this than I ever will that, because of his efforts, the Bill will reach the statute book some 35 years earlier than it would otherwise have done. For that I owe thanks both to him and to the Ministers who have taken charge of it and so ably piloted it through.
I have one more thing to say. Occasionally it has been suggested that this Bill is in some sense an alternative to the authority of Parliament as a check on the Executive. It is not; it is a complement. Courts and Parliaments check executives in two different ways on two different kinds of problem. Both are needed. Having two does not weaken the one. It gives us hope that we shall have both together.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is right that this Bill occupies a central position in our programme of constitutional reform. By bringing rights home it will enable people in this country to enforce their convention rights against public authorities before our domestic courts. I believe that this will have a profound and beneficial effect on our system of law and government and will develop over the years a strong culture of human rights in our country.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, speaking in the debate on Second Reading, was good enough to acknowledge the importance of the Bill. He also suggested that adequate time should be set aside for considering it. Since then we have had six days in which to scrutinise the Bill in detail. That is only right. A Bill of this importance needs a thorough examination, and that is what it has had.
The Bill is based on a number of important principles. Legislation should be construed compatibly with the convention as far as possible. The sovereignty of Parliament should not be disturbed. Where the courts cannot reconcile legislation with convention rights, Parliament should be able to do so--and more quickly, if thought appropriate, than by enacting primary legislation. Public authorities should comply with convention rights or face the prospect of legal challenge. Remedies should be available for a breach of convention rights by a public authority. We have brought these principles together into what your Lordships have, I think, generally agreed is a carefully constructed Bill.
We have not been able to accept amendments that have gone to the heart of the Bill and I am conscious that some noble Lords thought us inflexible--one being the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. However, I am grateful for the rich contribution that he made to our debates on the Bill and for the observations which he made a few minutes ago. I pay tribute also to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who has been unstinting in his principled and generous support for the Bill, even setting aside his general concerns about the use of Henry VIII clauses to embrace the remedial order provisions. From his distinguished heredity he has provided a much needed sense of historical perspective.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, remarked at the last stage of the Bill on the frequency with which the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, managed to catch my eye--and rightly so, because he has for many years championed the cause of human rights. He has spoken with the highest authority on many of the issues raised
I make just one observation. Late one evening the noble Lord was perhaps concerned that we appeared to be retreating from the position that the Bill fully brings rights home. I commented only briefly--it was at the end of a long day--and I say a little more now. The Bill provides for all legislation, past and future, to be interpreted as far as possible in a way which is compatible with the convention rights. The convention rights are the magnetic north and the needle of judicial interpretation will swing towards them.
The noble Lord knows, and I am sure accepts, that the courts are not to set aside primary legislation under the Bill, but the principle of statutory construction is a strong alternative. It will be unlawful for public authorities to act in a way which is incompatible with the convention rights and that also is a strong and far-reaching provision. Taken together, those measures provide for the convention rights to have a great effect in our domestic law. I go further; in 99 per cent. of the cases that will arise, there will be no need for judicial declarations of incompatibility.
What the Bill does not do is make the convention rights themselves directly a part of our domestic law in the same way as, for example, the civil wrongs of negligence, trespass or libel are part of our domestic law. Claims in those areas are all actionable in tort in cases between private individuals. But, as the noble Lord knows, we have not provided for the convention rights to be directly justiciable in actions between private individuals. We have sought to protect the human rights of individuals against the abuse of power by the state, broadly defined, rather than to protect them against each other. That is the only practical difference between the full incorporation of the convention rights into our domestic law and the actual effect of the Bill. I hope that we can put to one side what is really a theological dispute in relation to the meaning of the word "incorporation" and concentrate on what the Bill was designed to achieve, which is a real enhancement of the human rights of people in this country.
Another issue of concern to some noble Lords was the possible impact of the Bill on the freedom of the press and, in particular, on the Press Complaints Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, made a number of points to which I should like to come, though I endorse the robust observations of the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, commented on the idea of the Press Complaints Commission awarding compensation; not fining newspapers, I emphasise--"fine" is an abuse of language--but awarding compensation to individuals who have been wronged in terms of the PCC's own code but who at present have
That said, we have engaged in a dialogue, and we will continue to do so, about the likely effect of the Bill on the PCC or on newspapers generally. The issues have been debated in Committee and both the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn have had meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Both I and my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn have stressed our readiness to meet media organisations to deal with the Bill.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was concerned at what he saw as the increased likelihood of injunctions against the press. I have said before--and I repeat again--that if the domestic courts develop a law of privacy, we have little doubt that they will carefully balance the Article 10 interest in freedom of expression and the Article 8 interest in private and family life, not least at the pre-publication stage if any injunction was being sought. If the PCC develops and strengthens its code, in my view, the granting of injunctions would rarely, if ever, occur.
It may be worth reminding your Lordships-- I certainly remind the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham--of the remarks of the European Court of Human Rights in the Spycatcher case in 1991, and I agree with every word of this:
I have always made it absolutely clear that the Government want to see the Press Complaints Commission take greater powers for itself. The point is that the weaker the self-regulation, the more exposed the press is to judicial action by judges in their own independent sphere. So the point about the PCC taking greater powers is that that would keep these cases out of the courts and within a strong and balanced system of self-regulation, where they ought to be.
As I have said many times before, I hope that the press itself will lay down proper standards and procedures to protect the public from illegitimate intrusions into their privacy. A press properly regulating itself is the best protection of freedom of expression. If you can trust the press to judge its own failings responsibly there should be no need for the intervention of the courts. I therefore welcome a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said. Of course, all these issues remain under active consideration by government. Final decisions have not yet been reached. I can say that the Government eagerly await what we hope will come from the noble Lord's proposals for the improvement of self-regulation of the press by the PCC.
We have naturally sought to preserve the central elements of the Bill, which in any event have been much praised. But we have listened to the points made in debate and have been able to take some of them up and to improve the Bill. For example, the circumstances in which the High Court of Justiciary can make declarations of incompatibility under Clause 4 has been widened. Clause 7 has been amended in relation to the jurisdiction of tribunals so that we can ensure that individuals will be able to rely on their convention rights against public authorities in any legal proceedings. Clause 9 has been amended in order to provide an enforceable right to compensation for a breach of Article 5 of the convention resulting from a judicial act.
Your Lordships' concerns about remedial orders have been reflected in a number of amendments providing additional restrictions and requirements in Clauses 10 to 12. The labours of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, as judicial shop steward emeritus have borne fruit in amendments to the provisions for judicial pensions under Clause 18. In short, this Chamber has done its revising work well and a Bill which began as good has become even better.